TYPES OF RIBS:

Ribs can be a very tasty, inexpensive fare. They can be cooked on the grill, the oven or by being braised. It is, however, important to know what kinds of ribs one is dealing with, as they can be very different in texture from one another. Here is a summary of the different kinds of ribs that I typically cook:

BEEF RIBS:

Cows have thirteen pairs of ribs and although some of the cuts can be tough all of them can be turned into a delectable dish if cooked correctly. Basically, there are two kinds of beef ribs, back ribs and short ribs. Back ribs, a.k.a. beef spareribs or Texas ribs, are very tender and are cut off from the prime rib. Generally, these ribs don't have lots of meat because the butcher prefers to carve the meat out and sell those cuts for much more money. Because they are so tender, back ribs are more suited for grilling. Typically a rack will feed two to three people.

Short ribs are the meaty ends of beef ribs from the rib, chuck or brisket section. Short ribs have lots of meat and are very flavorful. They are also quite inexpensive. These ribs are approximately 2-inches long and are topped with a thick layer of well-marbled, tough meat. Many times you will find them with out the bone and they are sold either as individual bones or in strips of three to four ribs. When cooking them, calculate that each person you are feeding will eat approximately a pound of ribs each. As we will discuss later, short ribs are best when braised as the long, slow process makes them specially tender and flavorful.

One of my favorite barbecued ribs in Bolivia are called "Asado de Tira'. These are from Argentina and they are served off the grill, almost crispy. Although they can be tough they are so full of flavor they are worth the extra chewing! These ribs are created by cross cutting short beef ribs. The meatiest of short ribs, these cross cut ribs come from the chuck and are also known as flanken ribs. Have some of these on the grill and you are in for a wonderful treat!

PORK RIBS:

Perhaps the most popular kind of ribs for grilling, pork ribs are also extremely flavorful and marbled. The number one choice, I believe, for grilling are the famous baby back ribs. There's a reason for this. These ribs are tender and full of flavor and come from the loin area. Although these ribs typically come on a narrow slab they have considerable amounts of meat on them. A full rack will generally have between eight to fourteen ribs. A whole rack will feed two to three people. I buy mine at Costco where packages contain three racks.

You can also get spareribs from pork. Spareribs come from the pork's underbelly and are bigger, fatter and tougher than their sibling the baby back rib. As with beef spareribs, pork spareribs braise beautifully and are loaded with flavor. A full rack usually has thirteen ribs and will feed three to four people.

Another popular cut is the St. Louis- cut ribs, a.k.a. SLC, barbecue cut or Kansas City cut. This cut results from cutting the rib tips and the flat meat off of the sparerib slab. This slab is cut from the flattest part of the spareribs. These ribs are meatier and better marbled than baby back ribs making them a favorite of many a chef. A slab will feed one to two people.

The lower part of the sparerib, often discarded by butchers, is called a rib tip. Rib tip are full of connective tissue and don't have much meat but when cooked slowly they result in a luscious meal. Calculate approximately one pound per person when serving these.

Another cut of rib is the pork riblet. This cut results from cutting the baby back rack in half lengthwise with a meat saw. They generally are cut into 1 to 2-inch wide strips and are great for grilling. Ask your butcher to cut them for you if you want these as it will make your life considerably easier!

Finally, we have pork country-style ribs. These ribs are a skinny pork chop cut from the upper shoulder end of the loin. Many times these are sold individually and with out the bone. Country style ribs have a large amount of meat and can dry easily if not cooked properly.

LAMB RIBS:

Although lamb ribs are not commonly eaten in the US they too provide a great deal of taste. I grew up eating lamb ribs roasted in the oven and always love them. My ex-mother-in-law, a wonderful woman and chef of Middle Eastern descent taught me to enjoy them in other ways. She stuffs them with rice or braises them or grills them. Anyway you choose to have them I think you will enjoy them thoroughly.

If you have access to a Middle Eastern grocery store you will find that they usually have very fresh lamb. If you don't, look for it at the supermarket. You might have to special order it through your butcher. Lamb spareribs usually come on large slabs that have little meat and a lot of fat. If this is the case make sure to trim off most of the fat and connective tissue before you cook them. Slabs that have already been trimmed are also known as Denver ribs or lamb breast. These slabs have lots of bone but the meat is very tender, much like prime rib in beef. Denver rib racks are commonly small and will feed one to two people, depending on their appetite. Two racks of ribs can be specially cut by your butcher to form a crown roast of lamb.

The rib area can also be cut into flavorful little rib chops known as lamb riblets. As with other individually cut ribs calculate approximately one pound of ribs per person.

We will discuss different methods of cooking all of the ribs named above in future chapters. Next I want to discuss essential tools and equipment you are going to need to make the cooking of these possible. Things seem to work out better when you are equipped properly and have the right tools!

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The Frugal Chef